Friday, May 12, 2017

TOP STORY >> Sylvan Hills HS in urgent need of modernizing

Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Jerry Guess said Friday he is confident voters in the district will approve an extension of the current debt-service millage June 13 to transform the Sylvan Hills High School campus.

He has high expectations despite a landslide defeat Tuesday of a tax increase to build and rehabilitate Little Rock District schools. Just 10 percent of Little Rock voters turned out, but the margin of defeat was nearly 2 to 1, with 3,938 in favor of extending the millage another 17 years, and 7,167 against.

“We have a dramatic need,” Guess said. Sylvan Hills has 1,450 students registered for a high school built to accommodate 850, he added.

“Come over and watch classes change sometimes,” he said. “We’ve got kids going everywhere.” He said they attend classes in portable classrooms, storage buildings converted to classrooms, and the ninth grade is shipped over to the old Northwood campus.

The school currently can’t hold an assembly or program for more than about a quarter of the students and lunch has to be served in three shifts because the kitchen and cafeteria are so small.

“The need is critical,” ac-cording to Guess. “We’ve got to provide more space.”

“We have a way to raise money to make bond payments without an increase in property tax,” he said.

The Little Rock School District is deeply divided with those opposed to the state takeover of the district and dismissal of its elected school board vehemently opposed to extending the existing debt-service millage.

The PCSSD was taken over by the state in 2011, but has climbed out of fiscal distress. “We have an elected school board, seated in November,” Guess said, “Seven members elected by patrons. The board has unanimously endorsed the campaign.” If the millage is extended, it would raise $60 million to build new classrooms and science labs, a larger cafeteria and a large auditorium at Sylvan Hills and remodel much of the rest of the campus, he said.

The millage extension election is set for June 13. Early voting begins June 6.

A “yes” vote won’t cost property owners more per year, but it will extend the commitment to pay the current 40.7 mill tax 17 years longer than the current 13-year commitment, according to Sherwood Alderman Beverly Williams.

At its regular May meeting Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to hire Baldwin & Shell as construction manager for the project and to accept WER Architects plans and drawings to date.

Currently Baldwin and Shell is working with WER on the new Jacksonville High School and the new Jacksonville elementary school.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” she said.

“We need to extend the bond issue so we can build a state-of-the-art facility, including science labs to meet new standards, a cafeteria large enough that students don’t have to eat in three shifts and an auditorium large enough to seat everyone,” Williams said.